Vincent Gambini is a magician and theatre artist. He approaches magic through deconstruction, irony and philosophy. His critically acclaimed shows include ‘This is not a magic show’ and ‘The Chore of Enchantment’.
Vincent Gambini is the pseudonym of artist, writer and theatre lecturer Augusto Corrieri. Trained in contemporary theatre at Dartington College of Arts, Augusto Corrieri has worked across the fields of dance and performance art, presenting new works in venues across the UK and further afield. His PhD has been published as a book, entitled ‘In Place of a show: what happens inside theatres when nothing is happening’ (Bloomsbury).
Describe something that has recently amazed you and how it made you feel.
I recently watched an outdoor dance performance, with a cast of black female young adults. There was an incredible generosity on their part, in performing to strangers, and to an almost exclusively white audience (it was part of the Brighton festival). A kind of polite “f*** you, this is us taking a stand here!”. It moved me to see this courage, this fearlessness, however much ‘performed’ or staged. A desire to appear, publicly, and to claim space, and attention. Whilst I don’t think the show had a political message of any kind, it hit a nerve within me, because of the political climate we’re living through, and the rise of the far-right in particular…
What is magic to you? And has that view changed over the years?
If we’re talking about ‘performance magic’, then the word magic simply denotes an artistic medium: magic is a form of theatre, predicated on the presentation of impossible feats. Magic cannot happen, yet here it is, happening. It’s art-ifice.
I think my view on magic has changed in the last few years. It’s not just about provoking wonder, but also about making space to ask questions: questions about perception, about representation, about theatre, etc. I’m drawn to the ways that Teller (of Penn & Teller) talks about magic as an intellectual art form, which is rare, and goes against the grain of how most magicians approach it (as physical, visual, emotional, etc). When spectators experience magic, the mind is working overtime, and not just to figure out the method, but asking many questions about the nature of reality, and what we can really know about the world. In a nutshell: magic is philosophy in action!
Who is Vincent Gambini and how does he differ from Augusto?
Vincent Gambini is the name of a character played by Joe Pesci, in the 1992 film ‘My Cousin Vinny’. I liked the Italian sounding nature of it (Slydini, Cardini, etc), and it’s useful to have a different name to operate under: it allows me a bit more freedom, because my own name has an altogether different ‘profile’ (I’ve worked for years in the fields of performance art, dance, and critical writing, and now I’m a university lecturer in Theatre and Performance).
Other than that, Gambini is not a ‘character’, at least not in the sense of me stepping into a fictional persona. When I perform as Gambini, I do that very much as myself: with my limitations, my take on things, my style of magic and speaking, etc. The only fictional conceit is that Gambini is a professional full-time magician: I need that conceit, because it enables me to play with questioning the role of the magician, the job of being a magician, the strange isolation or mystery that surrounds magicians, etc. It allows me also to play with presenting things I don’t necessarily like about magic…
You’re currently touring the show “The Chore of Enchantment”. Can you tell me what prompted the show, how it developed and how it has been received?
‘The Chore of Enchantment’ took 2 or 3 years to make. I’m mostly pleased with it now, but it wasn’t an easy ride (I’m still tweaking it every time I present it). Its genesis was a small act I made in 2016: I was due to perform a 20min slot, at the Edinburgh International Magic Festival, in June 2016. This was a few days after the Brexit referendum. And I was so devastated by the whole campaign, and the final result, that I decided last minute to make the whole act about a magician who is too devastated by Brexit to perform his act.
This worked very well at the time, and it led me to develop this longer show that is partly about a magician in crisis: for years he’s only been concerned about magic and tricks, and now he’s decided to start reading the news, and he is in utter disbelief. He starts questioning his life, his role as a magician (‘why provide more distractions, when everything’s falling apart?!’), and essentially his whole sense of self spirals out of control.
There are other layers to it, but in a nutshell that’s the conceit of the show: a magic show about the difficulty of doing a magic show, at troubling political times like these.
Overall, the show was received well, although with some reservations. Audiences in Edinburgh 2018 grew steadily across the 3 week run, though touring the piece is proving harder than my previous piece, ‘This is not a magic show’, which is arguably more direct, warming and charming.
Where do magicians lose their magic?
Oh that’s easy to answer: at magic conventions, magic clubs, and online magic forums.
A bit harsh, I know. But I seriously think that if even just 10% of the energy and resources that go into the ‘magic market’ (new products, websites, latest star lecturers, conventions) were channelled into developing magic theatres, public performance events, public festivals, then magic as a ‘genre’ would be so much healthier. Magic can only thrive if it does so an art form. As it stands, it suffers from having become too much of a commodity: it’s a market of amateur magicians buying and rating consumer products. Within that, and outside, there are of course people doing great work, whether writing, inventing, performing, etc. But they are always the exceptions to the rule.
How can we cultivate a sense of wonder?
Interesting question… I don’t know that we can cultivate wonder. Wonder, it seems to me, works because it catches us by surprise: it upends our thinking and perception. It stops us in our tracks.
I guess you can of course slow down, observe natural phenomena, learn to be more present: and that might, just might, pave the way for something like wonder. But then I’m not sure that seeking wonder is really a good idea, it seems that wonder is too much like something that flies off if you try to catch it (it’s like sleep: the more you want it and will it, the less it comes).
Having said all that, a path that has been fenced off by Western culture and which strikes me as being very close to a cultivation of wonder, is that of hallucinogenic substances (mushrooms, LSD, etc). This is a field that, since the 70s, has been censored or wilfully discredited. But popular books like Michael Pollan’s ‘How to change your mind’ are beginning to change the conversation around this very important way of opening the mind and consciousness…
There seems to be a renaissance in the academic study of magic. What are your thoughts on this and what are the challenges & opportunities?
There is a small but noticeable shift, yes. I think that’s partly down to the way academia itself has shifted, and the fact that it is embracing areas that before may have been seen as less serious, for whatever reason.
The work of psychologists like Gustav Kuhn, or cultural theorists like Simon During, I think is very welcome in the field of magic research. I think the next step is to try and get magicians to engage with these works, and to get a dialogue going. Magic needs more critical thinking, more innovative self-questioning, and input from other disciplines. I remember US magician and artist Derek DelGaudio bemoaning the lack of a ‘critical class’ in magic: people whose job would be to form critical commentary and frameworks. And I agree. Critical thought, critical history, critical tools: these are the oxygen to any discipline. It’s about developing ways of thinking about magic. Too often, magic books are just straightforward celebrations of how wonderful it is.
What is the role of a magician in the 21st Century?
I would say there are different roles, in the plural, as opposed to a singular, essential, truthful role, the ‘right’ one. For instance, it is OK that one role is to provide a bit of light entertainment, or escapist relief. As for me, I return to Penn and Teller here, as they define magic as ‘the lie that tells the truth’. So magicians in the 21st century provide two essential things: 1. a radical and critical scepticism of all that appears to be. And 2. A sense of joy and exuberance in experiencing something that seems impossible. So it’s a kind of critical delight, a marriage of two seemingly incongruous aspects, that I think could define magic in the 21st century. We need to remain vigilant, and we need to smile. And we need to do these things at the same time.
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